Category Archives: mental health

Being supported

 

 

IMG_0050It is the last week of the school year for my nurture work, this is a week to say goodbye to staff who I have worked so closely with all year, a time of final sessions with the children who have become very important to me and will also leave a little of themselves in my memory. It’s a time to tell staff once again what an amazing job they have done, to remind them of the progress they have made with the child; and it is a time to tell the children for one last time this year that they are special and how much I have loved working with them.

The end of the school year is a time to stop and reflect, my main reflection has been how important support is. In our nurture role, we are in an unusual position that we can work with a school and child for a year, we can support them by visiting them weekly, by being there, not just advising and telling them what to do but also by being hands on and modelling the work. One teacher told me she appreciated having someone to rant to, others have said they were grateful for having someone who they knew was there for them and supported them through some very stressful times.

We all need people in our lives to support us, people, who will come alongside us and tell us we can do it, to encourage us. A week ago I and a small team launched a crowdfunding project for a children’s book and animation project called Mummy’s Got Bipolar. When we initially planned for this I had not anticipated the strong feelings I would have with it. I wrote the children’s book, drawing on my own experience of my Mum having Bipolar and my experience of working with other families and children over the years. I foolishly didn’t really realise how brave I needed to be to do this project!. I find asking for support in this project quite hard, I am not a natural promoter or marketing person. Also because it is a subject that I believe in and I care about it has brought up feelings of vulnerability and fear of being rejected. Earlier this year I read a book by Brene Brown called Daring Greatly, I didn’t realise at the time how important her words were going to be to me. Brene talked about having the courage and being brave to step out of your comfort zones and take risks. That is definitely what I have done this last week, but this has only been possible by people supporting me. It has been a very scary week! but various family and friends have been there, given me encouraging words, supported the project, offered ideas and suggestions. Without their support the last week would have been a lot harder. There is still another 3 weeks of the campaign to go and I know that ongoing support is going to be vital to get us to the end.

If you’re interested in looking at the campaign a link  is here

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Talking to children about mental illness

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We know that mental illness affects huge numbers of adults and children in this country, Mind suggest 1 in 4 adults have a mental illness, Young Minds suggest 1 in 10 children aged between 5-16 have a diagnosed mental health disorder. Even with the numbers being so high, mental illness is still a subject that many people feel awkward, embarrassed, uncomfortable talking about.

I grew up in a family where mental illness was very obvious, my Mum has Bipolar, there was no hiding away from it. As a family, we had many many good times together but there were also times that were hard, days when she was very ill. Back then it was common for people with Bipolar to be hospitalised, my Mum spent many, many months over the years in a large mental health hospital called Barrow Gurney in Bristol. As a child I visited her plenty of times; never really understanding what was wrong, all I knew was that my Mummy was ill, that sometimes she couldn’t look after me and sometimes she needed to stay in the large, scary hospital. Thankfully far more is now understood about mental illness/ Bipolar and hospitalisation is often not needed.

I knew my Mum had an illness but I didn’t have a name for the illness. I didn’t realise what her illness was until I was in a school assembly aged 14 when Mind took the assembly and described mental illness and something called Manic depression ( the name for Bipolar back then). That was a lightbulb moment for me, I suddenly realised that it was not just my Mum that was ill. Having an understanding of her illness really helped me.

I now work with young children and young people some of whom have parents with mental illness, some children and young people who have a mental illness themselves. I passionately believe that we need to help children and young people understand what is happening around them. If they or parent/ sibling has an illness I believe we need to help children understand what that is illness is. I use books all the time in my work, I have a mini library of issue books that I use with children and recommend to people, these vary from domestic violence, cancer, divorce, parents in prison. When I had my own children I started to look for books that I could use to explain to my children about their Granny’s Bipolar, and I couldn’t find any aimed at younger children. There are now books available aimed at older children around 7+ but no books aimed at younger children.

I know it can be hard for adults to know how to begin talking to a child about Bipolar, I know some adults are worried about talking to children at too young an age. In my experience young children are curious, inquisitive, they want to ask questions, they want information, not too much, but enough to help them feel safe. For this reason, I have written a children’s book aimed at children aged 3-7 years. I have recently launched a crowdfunding project to fund the illustration, printing of the book and to turn the book into an animation. My hope is that we can make this book available to children’s centres, nurseries, schools, GP surgeries, CAMHS services. The aim of the book and animation is that children and families can look at this together and begin to talk about Bipolar.

The story is about a Mum, Dad, 2 girls and 2 guinea pigs. It will be a beautifully illustrated book, illustrated and animated by my close friend Jon Birch. It is a gentle story introducing Bipolar, helping children to understand it is not something to be afraid of, and it is ok to ask questions about it.

Please have a look at the crowdfunding page, it would be great if you could support this and tell others about it. We need to raise a lot of money, £13,000. The great idea with crowdfunding is that no money is taken until the whole amount has been pledged, so no-one loses out.

 

Image by Jon Birch, 1 of the illustrations to be used in the book and animation

 

 

Looking for hope

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It has been a week of awful news , the homophobic deaths in Orlando, the tragic death of Jo Cox and personally an old friend of mine , Bob Holman died of motor neurone disease this week. I have also been reminded several times this week, how extremely hard and sad life is for many of the children I work with. In weeks like this, it is really hard to find any hope, to find any light in the darkness. I have found myself each day acknowledging how hard it feels, how desperately sad it makes me feel. When life is dark it’s important to acknowledge the darkness and the feelings that brings. But I also know, particularly with the children I work with, I need to find some light, some hope.

The hope for me this week has been reading Brendan Cox’s words, just hours after his wife’s death, calling on people to “fight against the hatred that killed her”, reminding people how Jo believed in a better world. Bob Holman’s death is very sad, but he leaves behind a legacy of fighting for justice and against poverty, his work influenced and touched many people, my memory of Bob is that he hoped and believed that things could be different, he believed there could be change.

Finding light in my nurture work has been through seeing the children laughing, engaging and playing, these sound like small things, but for many of the children I work with, that is a huge achievement. Also in the rest of life enjoying being with friends and family, enjoying the preciousness of our time together and giving thanks for our lives.

How will you be kind to yourself this week?

 

 

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I have spent my week mostly asking this question to the teachers and TA’s that I work with. It’s the end of the term, the teachers are exhausted, the children are a mix of being irritable and bouncy! they inevitably pick up on the stress of the staff and this, in turn, leads them to respond in ways which the staff finds hard. So, everyone, this week has been saying how much they are looking forward to the week off, but then in the next breath, the teachers have been telling me the work they need to do, the planning that has to be done, the reports that have to be written. So my question has been how will you be kind to yourself  this week?

When we are busy, when we are stressed, those are the times it is particularly important to be kind to ourselves. For one teacher I suggested that each day in half term she did one thing for herself that she enjoyed, that made her feel good. She looked a bit blank and wasn’t sure what that could be, I told her that for me I like to bake or garden, those are 2 things I enjoy and find therapeutic. She agreed that she loved baking and would try this.

I am interested in how we learn to be kind to ourselves and what different people do for this, I have one friend who loves running, Jenny  ran through her treatment of cancer last year, this was one way she could be kind to herself. I have another friend who loves knitting and finds the process of knitting helps her to switch off. My husband cycles, if he doesn’t have a chance to cycle in a week he becomes agitated, this weekend he is cycling to and around the Isle of Wight with a group of friends and Amos Trust, to me that is an extreme way to be kind to himself, but it works for him!.

During my week off from schools it will be an opportunity to start a new chapter, the next one is on staff well-being, it feels pretty timely after this last week!; but along with writing I plan to be  kind to myself by gardening each day, my garden at this time of year brings me so much joy and pleasure ( as long as the slugs don’t eat everything!).

Looking after ourselves

 

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The importance of looking after ourselves can so often be overlooked. I think this is particularly the case for people working in the caring professions, where our role is to look out for the needs of others. Taking care of ourselves can at times be layered and it isn’t always easy to work out what we need to do. Other times it is very simple. One day this week a child I work with was sitting on the classroom carpet, he leant forward, with his head on the floor; I knelt down behind him, gently rubbed his back and spoke to him. He turned around and without saying anything he leant into me, he just wanted to be cuddled. At that moment his needs were really quite simple, he needed to be held, he needed to know someone was there for him, that he was loved and cared for. It was a privilege to be able to offer him the comfort he needed in that moment.

Sometimes as adults we find it difficult to recognise what our needs are, how we can increase and enhance our own well-being, but we just know, as that little boy did, that we don’t feel right.There are times when we need to ask ourselves challenging questions and when we need to admit we don’t know what we are doing or that we are not very happy with the situation we are in. At these times, we need to find others that we trust, that we can go to, talk to, and find support from. Sometimes we are not able to enhance our  own well-being by ourselves but we need others to walk alongside us and allow ourselves to be nurtured, held, supported and guided.

This morning I knew I needed to be outside, to wander through the meadow at the back of our house and enjoy the space, quietness, and beauty around me. This time gave me space to think and reflect on conversations I’d had this week, to think about and be thankful for the people who have held me, supported me and loved me this week and have helped to improve my well-being.

 

Image-Tunley meadow early this morning.

Supporting young people with stress and anxiety

 

 

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One night this week I was running an information session on stress and anxiety in young people, for year 10 parents at my children’s old senior school. This session came out of a piece of work I did two and half years ago when I still worked for a large children’s charity. Back then I became really aware of the rising number of young people we were seeing who were suffering from stress and anxiety. I spoke with a many young people and heard their stories, their experiences, their worries, and fears. I made recommendations to the local authority about what they and schools could do and I made suggestions to the charity about future work they could develop. At the time, this felt like a really significant piece of work. I had high hopes that we would get new funding and we would deliver a much larger piece of work, but it wasn’t to be. Our project was closed and our work in this area didn’t continue.

The request to run this session came as a surprise, in preparation for the session, I looked back at the initial findings and comments from young people, and was reminded yet again how important their comments were and how broken and sad some of our young people are. During the evening session, I was really struck by how much this school cared about the mental health of their young people, and how concerned the parents were.

We put so much pressure on young people today. We have such high expectations of them, particularly in education, the government is expecting more and more from them. We expect that young people should be able to achieve highly, be organised, know what they want to do with their lives, and make ‘sensible decisions’. Whilst forgetting that they are trying to figure out who they are, what their place is in the world, and what they believe. Last year I read a book by Dan Siegel called Brainstorm. He argues that a young person brain is not fully developed until they are 25. I shared this with the parents. This was news to them and many commented that it made so much sense. So when our teens are finding it difficult to make good decisions we need to remember that there is still a lot of development taking place inside their heads.

One of my main messages to the parents was about being there for young people; young people need to have someone who will listen to them, they need to feel loved and know that they belong. They need to hear they are special and that they are accepted for who they are. I now work weekly with 4-year-olds, providing nurture support for children who are finding school life difficult. The main thing 4 years olds need is to know they are loved, they are special, that they belong and they are accepted.

I have reminded again that the needs our children have don’t change as they get older. The way they communicate might change, some of their behaviour might change but ultimately they need to know that even when they are broken, someone will be there to help transform their brokenness and pain. There is a Japanese word for a form of Japanese pottery called Kintsugi. These are pots that become broken in the firing process and are then repaired with a special lacquer of gold or silver, transforming their brokeness into a thing of beauty. I love this image and see it as a way we need to view woking with children and teens who are troubled, broken and finding life hard. We need to find ways to bring out their beauty, and to transform their brokenness. I firmly believe one way to start that process is by being there for them, loving them and accepting them.

Rising number of teenagers being admitted to hospital with eating disorders

On the news today, they have spoken about the rise in teenagers being admitted to hospital with eating disorders. The number has doubled in the last two years – http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/32975654/eating-disorder-hospital-admissions-nearly-double

I wasn’t surprised when I heard the news headline this morning. I grew up with a mum who had an eating disorder for over 30 years. I have friends who have struggled with eating disorders. A friend’s wife died of anorexia and my daughters each have friends who have eating disorders. I have also worked with some wonderful young people who have eating disorders, some of whom have been admitted to hospital for this.

There has always been pressure to fit in with others, to look beautiful, to have the perfect body etc. However, we all know this has greatly increased over the last few years with social media. Last year I did some research with young people about who they could talk to when they were feeling stressed, unhappy, depressed. Over half of the young people I spoke to had struggled with eating disorders to varying degrees. All of the young people I spoke to said that they didn’t have anyone to speak to, that family didn’t know how to help or couldn’t help them and that school was not a place where they could speak to people. They all said they needed to be taught about mental health and eating disorders at school, and they all said school needed to be a place where they could confide in someone, find out information and seek out help. They all felt that schools were scared to listen to them, were scared to really hear about their experience and were scared to ask them how they were.

There are so many issues involved in this topic, but we need to start by providing children and young people with clear information and education. We need to have adults who are able and willing to listen to them, to hear their fears and their worries, who won’t shy away from asking the difficult questions and won’t shy away from the difficult topics.